The Church Compromised Revelation 2:12–2:29
A new Decalogue has been adopted by the neo-Christians of our day, ‘Thou shalt not disagree,’ and a new set of Beatitudes too, ‘Blessed are they that tolerate everything, for they shall not be made accountable for anything,’” wrote A.W. Tozer. Such attitudes are not new, as Tozer indicated. Compromise has been a cancer in the church from its inception. This is evident in Christ’s letters to Pergamum and Thyatira denouncing tolerance of false teachers and heretical doctrine within the church.
PERGAMUM: THE WORLDLY CHURCH
Pergamum was the capital city of the Roman province in Asia. It was almost 60 miles from Smyrna and 15 miles from the Aegean Sea and had little commerce. The name comes from the word parchment, a type of paper. Pergamum was a center of learning, medicine, and religious books, boasting a library of 200,000 volumes. For this reason it became the home of many princes, priests, and scholars. Noted for marble carving, it excelled the other six cities named in Revelation 2–3 in architectural beauty.
The city also was noted for its pagan religions and many heathen temples. The great altar dedicated to the chief Greek savior-god, Zeus Olympus, was located in the city, along with an altar to Athena, patron goddess of Athens. Emperor worship was practiced in Pergamum, its first temple being erected in 29 B.C. Citizens were required to burn a pinch of incense at the foot of Caesar’s statue, honoring him as a god. Those who refused to do so were immediately arrested and imprisoned. They also worshipped Dionysus, the god of vegetation, and Aesculapius, the god of healing. A medical school was attached to this pagan cult, and the well-known symbol of the medical profession—a serpent twined around a staff—was their insignia.
John did not reveal when or how the church in Pergamum was established. Most likely Paul or workers from Ephesus started the church. It had been established where “Satan’s throne” (v. 13) had been set up, that is, the center of cultic worship. This Satanic religious system had been started in Babylon by Semiramis, the wife of Nimrod. Babylon was captured by the Persians in 539 B.C., who put a stop to this religious system. Soon it found a new home in Pergamum. Through the worship of Caesar, Zeus, Aesculapius, and other pseudo-gods, Satan had firmly established himself throughout the city.
Scripture indicates that Satan is “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2), “the god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4), who goes throughout the world “like a roaring lion … seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).
Satan therefore set up his operation in the center of learning and the healing arts, along with idolatry, seeking to control peoples’ minds through learning, their bodies through healing, and their souls through pagan religion. With the church taking its stand in the midst of Satan’s dwelling place, it would only be a matter of time before conflict arose.
Christ revealed Himself as “he who hath the sharp sword with two edges” (v. 12), which refers to His judicial authority. The two-edged sword cuts in any direction. His Word is “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit … and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Nothing escapes the Lord’s sight: All “creature[s] … are naked and opened unto the eyes” (Heb. 4:13) of the Lord who will judge all people righteously.
The Lord commended the works of these believers who stayed faithful in the midst of such evil (v. 13). He was well aware of the conditions and pressures under which they worked as they lived out their commitment to Him. He praised the believers’ commitment in three ways. First, they were holding fast to His name (v. 13). There was a remnant of believers who loved the Lord and remained loyal to Him in the shadow of Satan’s throne. Second, they had not “denied [His] faith” (v. 13) but were willing to confess explicit faith in Him as the only true God. In so doing they put their lives on the line in a society controlled by Satan. Third, Christ recognized Antipas, referring to him as “my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth” (v. 13). The name Antipas means against all. He died standing faithful to the name and doctrine of Christ, which was being opposed by satanically inspired men.
But the Lord had two complaints against the church. First, it tolerated the false “doctrine of Balaam” (v. 14). Balaam was a gifted prophet who prostituted his gift for financial gain and worldly honor. He was hired by Balak, king of Moab, to pronounce a curse on the nation of Israel. Balaam tried to curse Israel but failed on three occasions (Num. 22:14–21) because of the restraining power of God (Num. 23–24). Unable to curse Israel, whom God had blessed, Balaam conceived a plan to have the men of Israel enter into mixed marriages with Moabite women, thus producing spiritual compromise (Num. 22:5; 23:8; 31:15–16). When Satan could not physically destroy the Israelites, he tried to destroy them through union with ungodly neighbors, so that Israel would no longer be separated for the Lord but would be defiled with idolatrous and immoral practices.
Christ mentioned three practices within the doctrine of Balaam that corrupted these believers. First, Balaam tried to entice them through mixed marriages, corrupting and destroying Christian families. Second, he attempted to entice them “to eat things sacrifice unto idols,” thus bringing in idolatry. Third, Balaam enticed them with the sexual sin of fornication, corrupting their moral purity. These practices were condemned by the first church council in Jerusalem (Acts 15:19–20).
The Lord’s second complaint was that the church tolerated “the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing [he] hate[d]” (v. 15). This cult professed faith in Christ but taught antinomianism (freedom to live without moral law) and practiced licentious living. (What was a deed in Ephesus became a doctrine in Pergamum.) Here is a picture of the church married to the world. The church is the bride of Christ and should not be unequally yoked with the dark works of this world’s system.
Christ counseled the church to “Repent” (v. 16). True repentance involves three things: contrition of heart, confession of sin, and a change in conduct. He warned them that failure to repent would cause Him to come quickly and “fight against them with the sword of [His] mouth” (v. 16). He would not and will not tolerate compromise within the church by those who try to defile it.
The overcomers or conquerors are promised three things. First, they will “eat … hidden manna” (v. 17). Christ, who is the “bread of life” (Jn. 6:48) whom the world cannot spiritually see, provides spiritual sustenance for believers throughout eternity. Second, they will be given a “white stone” (v. 17), a symbol of Christ’s assurance and acceptance to all who have not succumbed to satanic persecution. Third, they will have “a new name written, which no man knoweth except he that receiveth it” (v. 17), a symbol of the personal and intimate relationship believers will experience with the Lord in heaven.
Believers today must heed this warning to guard against compromise in morals, false teachers, and heretical doctrine.
THYATIRA: THE DOCTRINAL DEFECTIVE CHURCH
Thyatira, a small town about 35 miles southeast of Pergamum, was founded by Alexander the Great in 300 B.C. A military city situated in a fertile agricultural valley, it was noted for commerce, trade guilds, and craftsmen specializing in tanning, bronze, pottery, and purple dying. Although the city was not a religious center, emperor worship did exist and each trade guild had its own god. Christians most likely belonged to trade guilds, which put pressure on them to be involved in pagan worship.
Scripture does not indicate when the church was established. “Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira,” came to the Lord under Paul’s ministry in Philippi (Acts 16:14–15) and may have helped establish the church. Moreover, this church, although located in the smallest city mentioned in Revelation 2–3, received the longest letter.
Christ described Himself as “the Son of God, who hath his eyes like a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine bronze” (v. 18). The title “Son of God” (used by the Lord only in this verse in Revelation) emphasized His deity to a city that worshipped the sun god—something the church should be reminded of as well. The words “eyes” and “feet” speak of His indignation and judgment already mentioned by the author (cp. Rev. 1:14–15).
The Lord commended the church on four works in verse 19. First was their love for Christ, not mentioned in the letters to the other churches. Second was their service—sacrificially reaching out to others. Third was their faith. A small group within the church were faithful and loyal to the Lord. Fourth was their patience or endurance under trial. The church was not standing still but was growing and developing in its ministry, for its last works were “more than the first” (v. 19).
The Lord did, however, express a number of major complaints against the church. First, they allowed “that woman, Jezebel, who calleth herself a prophetess, to teach” (v. 20). This speaks of a woman in the church whose teaching corrupted God’s people, as did the Jezebel of old. Jezebel was the Phoenician princess who, after marrying King Ahab, brought Baal worship to Israel (1 Ki. 16–19). This self-proclaimed prophetess counseled Christians within the church to become involved in the Roman religious practice of “fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols” (v. 20). Christian workers were expected to join trade guilds in Thyatira, where many of these immoralities were commonly practiced. Failure to participate meant the loss of livelihood and being blackballed from a trade.
Christ counseled the prophetess to repent: “And I gave her space to repent of her fornication, and she repented not” (v. 21). He patiently waited for repentance to come, but still the woman declined. God therefore brought three judgments upon her and her followers. First, He would cast “her into a bed” (v. 22); that is, from her bed of immorality into a sickbed of disease and eventual death. Second, those who “commit adultery with her” will suffer “great tribulation, except they repent” (v. 22). Following after the pseudo-teachings of this woman meant great suffering and ultimate death. Third, “I will kill her children with death [pestilence]” (v. 23). All of her followers, either the original followers or a second generation of professing believers, would suffer the same fate. Their doom left no doubt for the church that this judgment was from God: “and all the churches shall know that I am he who … will give unto every one of you according to your works” (v. 23). The “rest in Thyatira” (the faithful remnant), who did not embrace this doctrine that had its origin in Satan’s deep secrets, would not have any further burden of responsibility placed upon them from the Lord (v. 24). The Lord encouraged them not to leave the church but to “hold fast” (stand for truth without compromise) until He comes for the church (v. 25).
Two promises were made to the conquerors or overcomers who would faithfully keep Christ’s works unto the end (v. 26). The first was “power over the nations” (v. 26). The overcomers would be given authority to rule over the nations in the Millennium, sharing the privilege granted to Christ (Ps. 2:7–9) by God the Father (v. 27). The word “rule” in verse 27 means to shepherd. Believers will not only execute judgment but will administer mercy, direction, and protection to the nations during the kingdom age.
Second, they will be given the “morning star” (v. 28; cp. Rev. 22:16), Jesus, who has given Himself to believers. The morning star shines brightly over the dark earth just before dawn. At the Rapture, Christ will appear over this dark world to take the believers away before the Tribulation and will reappear to usher in the dawn of the Millennium.
Christ closed His letter to Thyatira as He did the others: “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (v. 29). Are your ears open?